Territories of Practice Elective:- Sustainable Design, An Evaluative Report

I have been aware of the Sustainability issue for a long time, especially since the beginning of my studies. The subject of Sustainability often features within the media, and my research has introduced me to several projects with ecological agendas. Living with a lesser environmental impact is something I address in my daily life, but in terms of my work, I knew there must be so much more that I could do to improve.  I chose to participate in the Sustainable design elective because of the frequency with which I was faced with the issue of Sustainability. I was increasingly aware of the topic and therefore felt it was vital that I, as an aspiring designer, gained a better and more meaningful understanding of it.

As part of the elective we were asked to conduct a blog. This was a new experience for me. I have always enjoyed keeping sketchbooks and journals that log ideas and inspiration, and found the process of keeping a blog similar. I found that by keeping a blog I was much more aware of recording an idea, and thinking in far more detail about what it’s relevance was. As a result of keeping the blog I feel I have improved my research abilities, and that it has helped me to be more evaluative of this research.  An aspect of the blog that differs from a journal is the fact that it is public- the information I post is shared with a world wide community, providing a platform for discussion and a place to share ideas. From the lectures I have seen the importance of collaboration between designers, and how sharing information is the best way to promote sustainable choices and develop innovative ideas. My blog is now a useful tool for me to store ideas, but also reflect upon and refer to during future projects.

The lectures in this elective aimed to explore the role that designers play in sustainability and the strategies that can be put in place to make and strategic change towards sustainability. By looking in detail at the “TED TEN” developed by the Textiles Environment Design research project at Chelsea.

I found the TED TEN so insightful, and going through the strategies opened my eyes to so many aspects of sustainability that I had never even considered before. I think the strategies are an incredibly useful tool to use as a reference, and to reflect critically on weather my projects adhere to the approaches. I learnt that I need to think more carefully about aspects of sustainable design in a broader context. I can now see the importance of ethical and activist considerations, as well as the need to consider the entire life cycle of a design as opposed to just the materials used to create it in the present.

Going through the lectures it became clear that the TED TEN strategies have links within one another, and I have come to understand that there is not one single answer to sustainability, and there never will be. A truly sustainable project is achieved through making a series of considered design decisions that innovatively explore different approaches to sustainability and apply multiple strategies to achieve the most effective results.

One quote that I found profound, and has stuck with me is “decisions made in design are responsible for eighty to ninety percent of a product’s environmental and economic costs” (Graedel et al. 1995). I would never have considered the impact was so great at the design stage, yet seeing it put so plainly like this, and in the context of the lecture series, it becomes obvious, and gave me huge sense of perspective, highlighting to me the degree of accountability that falls to designers to act upon sustainable strategies.

The lectures have provided me with a wide variety of resources with which to continue my learning. I have been introduced to practicing designers, whose work I found inspiring and intend to follow the progress of.  Presented with a collection of websites and books to explore I have been able to build a “catalogue” of stimulating information to support and inform my own work. This “catalogue” is one I intend to continually add to, keeping my knowledge up to date and connected to the innovations that are always developing towards sustainable design, in turn ensuring my work always has the most sustainable potential.

My second year BA Interior and Spatial Design project has progressed alongside the elective, and as a result I was able to directly incorporate my newly acquired knowledge throughout the development stages of my project and apply the ideas that were discussed.

The lectures have completely transformed my understanding of the word “sustainable” and the extent of the criteria labelling something with the term entails. Going forward I intend to develop a personal manifesto of strategies to apply to my practice. This manifesto will be adaptable so that it remains relevant to the variety of work that I hope to partake in the future.

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Amazing Books

I have loved learning more about sustainability, and the issue is becoming increasingly important to me. I know there is so much more I need to learn, and I went on the hunt for some books to read and gain knowledge of more views, perspectives and approaches to sustainable design. 

After a lovely day browsing through London’s book shops here is my reading list:-

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SINCLAIR. C, 2006, Design Like You Give A Damn, New York, Metropolis Books

(image reference: 10/01/2014, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Design-Like-Give-Damn-Architectural/dp/0500342199, website)

 

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Lupton. E and Miller. A, 2009, Design For A Living World, New York, Cooper-Hewitt/National Design Museum

(image reference: 10/01/2014, http://www.designersandbooks.com/book/design-living-world, website)

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Schwartz. M and Waugh. E, 2011, Recycling Spaces: Curating Urban Evolution, California, Novato

(image reference: 10/01/2014, http://worldlandscapearchitect.com/2013BR/MSP/Cover.jpg, website)

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Richardson.P, 2007, XS Green: big ideas, small spaces, London, Thames and Hudson

(image reference: 10/01/2014, http://www.thamesandhudson.com/XS_Green/9780500342305, website)

Multi Functional Products

Design Collective Ten created a series of sustainable wooden products for the company 100% design. As a group of collaborating designers they aim to make sustainable products beautiful and accessible, with a drive for ethical and eco production. The resulting items are simple, but I love the fact that many have more than one use, demonstrating ways to extend a products life cycle. For example, a toy truck that doubles up as a storage container or a toy car that can be used as a door stop. Other products encourage a sustainable behavior, like the bird feeder, which hopes to provide more friendly urban habitats for wildlife by getting people the engage with the environment.

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Reference: 11/01/2014, http://www.dezeen.com/2008/09/12/wood-at-100-design/, website

Phillips LED fluorescent tube bulbs

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I really despise fluorescent tube lights. They emit a glum, unflattering light, if you can call it “light”, and their inefficiency is frustrating, yet they are used so frequently in public places. This is why I was happy to see the news that Phillips have developed an LED bulb for use in the (horrid) fluorescent tubes.  I don’t know why it has taken SO long to develop this bulb when you consider how long such bulbs have been available for other lights, but hopefully this will improve the light quality, and at the same time use 50 percent less energy. Improvements all round!

Reference: 11/01/2014, http://inhabitat.com/infographic-philips-instant-fit-led-tubes-cut-energy-use-in-half/, website

Considering the Life Cycle of My Current Project

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Image Reference: “Design For Cyclability” Lecture

We were introduced to The Ted Ten Life Cycle during our lectures, and at the same time I was just being introduced to the first project in my course this year.

Greenwich-Map

Image Reference: – 02/01/2014, http://www.mappery.com/maps/Greenwich-Map.jpg, website

Greenwich was given as our location, and we were broadly asked to design an “Architectural Device” for a site of our choice in Greenwich.  Basically, my design composes of a small scale space for a child, enclosing a basin of water that fills and empties according to the changes in tidal level in the river Thames. The object of the space is to help the child, who is afraid of water, become more comfortable with it and even begin to find its slow rhythmic movements soothing. I guess it could be considered a therapeutic space. As this project has developed I have revisited the life cycle to assess the sustainability of my designs and highlight areas that I can improve on whilst still in the design process. I am nearing completion of this project and have again been thinking about the life cycle of my design.

Some areas of the life cycle are perhaps less relevant for this project, such as Packaging and Transportation and Manufacturing, but I made notes about the stages that do apply to my design.

MATERIAL EXTRACTION

I have been careful to select natural and renewable materials. I propose to use native English Yew timber, for the main constructed elements of the build. Yew timber has many knots, and this means that much of the timber extracted from a Yew tree can be disregarded as unusable. I however would like to embrace the grains within the wood, and enhance them to create richly interesting surfaces. As a result I could potentially build using only the wood that would otherwise have been wasted, and reduce the need to cut down more trees. I would ensure that I sourced the wood from an FSC certified supplier, and ensure that for all trees cut down, new saplings were planted. By using Yew wood I am reducing the need to import materials as it can be easily grown in Britain. In order to protect the wood against the elements, and from the water inside the structure, I would choose not to treat it toxic chemicals or sprays, and instead use the traditional method (taking models from history) of coating the wood with natural linseed oil, which proves just as effective. The water in the basin is naturally supplied by the Thames. Building a timber frame, and the fact that my design is on a very small scale, about the size of a small garden shed, I would be able to utilise slotting joints, and avoid the need for materials like concrete.

PRODUCT USE

Upon considering the level of use and length of use of my proposal, I realised that as a space designed to rehabilitate the child and help him adjust to the experience of water would not need to last for years and years as many architectural structures do, but rather a month or so. This meant I could reduce the amount of materials I needed to use and simplify my design by considering it only needed to last a short amount of time. I was able to reduce the thickness of timber required, and eliminate eliminate the need for reinforcement materials like steel.

END OF LIFE

This was an important consideration. Having noted that my design would be relatively short lived, I new I needed to create an after use plan so that the materials I had used would not go to waste. The structure is located in Greenwich park. The public use of the park and the surrounding natural, green open spaces inspired me to make the plan to re construct the timber into low level fencing, enclosing the water basin that could act like a pond. The remaining timber could be used to make benches, and raised beds in which to grow small scale produce like herbs, vegetables and of course flowers. It could be a community based project promoting a DIY approach to growing your own food and sourcing local produce.

Sustainable Aspects Of My Previous Projects

I revisited some of my projects from last year, and considered the areas in which I had succeeded in taking a more sustainable approach to design.

Portobello Road and the surrounding area was allocated as our project site. We were asked to find an area of investigation. Influenced by the hustle and bustle of Portobello, the vibrant colours, and the eclectic mix of objects and cuisine that fills the streets at market times, My focus was on the senses, and I was exploring the ways in which design could awaken our senses, and in turn enliven our daily and spatial experiences.

Project one was entitled “Sensory Mapping”. Whilst maps are generically reliant on vision, I wanted to create a map that would offer a visitor to Portobello a new and alternative experience of place by placing an emphasis on engaging with sound. This began with a series of drawings that recorded my acoustic experience whilst navigating the site.

ImageImage These drawings were very personal, but undertaking them was incredibly rewarding and created a completely new experience and understanding of Portobello compared to the previous visits I had made. I wanted to visitors to Portobello to share this rich experience, and devised a series of maps, void of visual or written information other than the very basic road layout, which users could use to create their own “Sound Maps” by recording their interpretation of the sounds that they experienced.

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This project did not require an abundance of materials. It relied simply on paper, a little printer ink and a pencil. I created a spatial experience, which puts into practice some of the ideas about Reducing The Need To Consume.

Leading on from this project I began to explore another sense, touch, which was an interesting area to explore in relation to spatial experiences because it is rare to find descriptions of place that include what could be physically felt. I became interested in the idea of “Sound Synesthesia.” I worked to translate the sounds around Portobello Market, in combination with it’s visual impact, into a tactile source of information. This sensory information has been layered onto one surface, building an indulgent pattern, and came together to create “sensory wrappings”.

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ImageI developed these wrappings into envelope like objects, their scale developed to make them small and intimate enough to be held and explored with the fingertips- the most sensitive part of the body to touch. This acute tactile experience is combined with sound responsive drawings and graphic notation that aim to evoke visual experience of sound. The curved corners are intended as guides, helping the user to navigate their way through the flaps, and experiencing the layers of information.

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I think this project succeeded in for-filling some of the ideas within the Ted Ten because one surface was used to build a pattern, using only ink and embossing, which uses no extra materials. The objects were designed to be memento’s of a visitors trip to Portobello, something that would be kept for a long time and treasured. Being made mainly of paper the objects were easily recycled.

The final project leading on from my exploration of the senses involved working in a group, and developing a “market stall”. As a group we harnessed my ideas around the senses to design a stall that was engaging and interactive for the user. We wanted our stall to be efficient, and designed it according to our needs. This meant it was only about 1.5m tall, with a depth and width of around 0.75m.  The stall may have been built a lot smaller than general stalls but we did not want to use more materials than we needed to. As a group we discussed the essence of Portobello road, and how this could be captured in our stall design. We thought about the markets and antique shops, and decided to source old objects that were perhaps no longer that desirable, and re work them for use within our stall. This meant we reduced waste and saved using new resources.  We found a broken wooden seat and an old suitcase.

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Our final stall was almost like a game, or an exciting vending machine. Once a customer had chosen their product, they would need to “process their order” by cranking handles, rotating cogs and navigating flaps.

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Looking back at this project I recognise there was so much more that we could have considered in order make our project more sustainable. Learning from the Ted Ten I can see that we could have:-

-Ensured all the materials that we used were either second hand or off cuts, and really pushed the idea of recycling old objects further.

– We could have looked at alternatives to using acrylic for the cogs and inner mechanics of the stall. Perspex can be hard to recycle and often contains toxins. Simply by sourcing more sustainably produced material that was easy to recycle would have been an easy solution, with no aesthetic detriment.

– We made the stall for a one day set up at Portobello market, and did not consider what use the stall could come to after this. Perhaps we also used too many materials for such a short use, and could have designed using less. When people came to our stall at the market, they were intrigued and loved using it. One gentleman said “I want this in my house! let me buy it from you!”. Perhaps we should have passed the stall on to him so that it remained in use and could become a longer lasting object.

Kirst Reitan Andersen Seminar; Design thinking and the Role of Designers

We were lucky enough to have this lecture delivered by Kirst Reitan Andersen, who is currently studying her PHD at the Copenhagen Business School. Her project is funded by the Mistra Future Fashion Program, and Andersen is exploring how businesses can incorporate “design thinking” into their work practice to drive better results towards sustainability.

Andersen defines Design Thinking as “a methodology for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result.”  She suggests that if this approach is combined with the more “scientific” approach that business men and women tend to work by (“defining all the parameters of the problem in order to define the solution”), then we can achieve more effective and complete solutions.

Andersen showed us case studies of her ideas put into practice.

One example was Veja, a French footwear brand that combines better conditions for Brazilian farmers with fashion, fair trade, and ecology. They work directly with small producer co-operatives in Brazil, using materials such as organic cotton, wild Amazonian rubber and acacia-tanned leather to create products for the European market. They do this without compromising on the design aesthetic of the final product.

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Aowen Jin is a British Chinese Artist, who in 2010 worked undercover in factories in China. She interviewed more than 800 of the 16-30 years old girls employed there. The project aims to document China’s economic transition, the changes in contemporary Chinese culture, the changes in the factory girls themselves and the changes in the world of consumer culture. Not only does this feed her own artistic interests, Aowen is able to deliver the information to businesses that use the factories so that they can develop a better understanding of the workplaces they create and understand where they might need to make changes to improve conditions.

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Reference: Kirst Reitan Andersen Lecture, 22/11/2013